Being Unapologetically Yourself
Updated: Dec 4, 2018
I was so camera-shy when I was little. I would hide behind my mom whenever I was called to take pictures. A lot of my childhood photos show me flashing an awkward smile because I didn't know how to look happy when I didn't feel that way.
Being camera-shy was the result of being bullied for my skin color all throughout my childhood. To this day, I can still hear the hurtful remarks that people have told me, including how one person said that my skin is so brown that I "look like (his) own poop." I would often cry to my mom, and she would tell me to just ignore what people say. Ignoring strangers, however, is a lot easier than ignoring my own family members, who would often give their two cents, especially those who I would only see once or twice a year. I would usually hear, "What happened to you? You're so dark that I can't even see you!" followed by a list of skincare regimes to help lighten my skin. What many people don't know, and what I wished I knew when I was growing up, was that even though many Filipino individuals have light skin, there's also a lot of Filipino people who look like me, too. I grew up thinking that I was an anomaly, that I should be ashamed of my darker skin because of trending Philippine and American beauty standards and the unwarranted opinions of tactless people.
In high school, I continued to struggle with body image and positivity like many teenagers. In addition to my skin color, I would obsess over acne, stretch marks, or blubbers of fat that seemed to never go away. Most of the kids in my middle school and high school were also white, which fed into the subconscious thought that I was a deviant from accepted standards. I looked around at my peers with porcelain skin and sleek, straight hair, and compared them to the little brown girl with a flat nose and frizzy, black hair who I saw in the mirror. I tried many products to lighten my skin or straighten my hair, and when I would watch TV at home, I would put clothespins on my nose to make it more defined. Around this time was also when my interest in makeup began, but I would go to the drugstore and always come home with products that were too light for my skin (the makeup industry in those days was NOTHING like it is today). I figured that there would have to be something on the market for me, but it never occurred to me that the industry was not catering to my skincare needs and people who looked like me. There was still the notion that light skin = beautiful skin, and it damaged my confidence and my love for myself.
When I went to college, I became surrounded by so many people who didn't look like me, but who also didn't look like each other. It was during this time that I began to question why being brown is bad, and I realized that it never was. I began buying products to enhance my features, not to change them into something that they will never be. I let my hair be free and wavy, and I was surprised by how many compliments I was getting. People even commented on how beautiful my skin tone was, and I was shocked. I first doubted their sincerity, but then I learned to see that they are right. My skin is beautiful, as am I, and it felt liberating to acknowledge it. I still occasionally hear comments about my skin tone, but I am more confident to challenge people to explain why they think that is bad. I don't think I've ever gotten an answer, or a reasonable one at least. More often, people ask me what my ethnicity is, and when I tell them that I am Filipino they usually say something along the lines of, "But your skin is so dark!" In the past, I would have politely smiled, unsure of what to say. Now, however, I use these moments as opportunities to educate people: "There are many Filipino individuals who look like me. It depends on where a person's family is from." I believe that the best response to changing perspectives is sharing my own and the knowledge that I've gained.
I am so happy that nowadays we are raising our children and the next generation with a better mindset of accepting who we are by loving both our inner and outer beauty. I wish that I had someone who represented me when I watched my favorite shows or movies, someone who had the platform to show that being different did not mean she was not beautiful. I grew up to be that representation for myself, and I am grateful for the courage that helps me share my story. So to anyone doubting themselves: acknowledge that you have so much to offer. Find the confidence to be unapologetically yourself.